Get a grip, Berkshires: Mother Nature won't release her frigid one just yet

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As Berkshire temperatures sank well below zero early Thursday while winds whipped a dangerous threat of frostbite and hypothermia, forecasters warned that the arctic air mass holding the region in a tight grip is here for a prolonged and unwelcome stay.

Ice fishers patiently awaiting their catch on Woods Pond in Lenox and other recently frozen lakes around the county seemed unfazed by strongly worded windchill warnings from the National Weather Service that extended into the afternoon.

AAA and its contracted service stations fielded numerous calls for help, while heat system technicians responded to a slew of furnace and boiler breakdowns.

"We're pretty slammed, but we're doing OK keeping up with it," said Samantha Clifford at Clifford Oil Co. in Lenox.

"We're getting triple the normal call volume," said John Paul of AAA Northeast, based in Providence, Rhode Island. "Dispatchers tell me it's hundreds and hundreds of calls an hour across Massachusetts."

Typically, motorists report dead batteries in older vehicles not driven for several days, he said. AAA advises drivers with batteries more than three years old to have them tested.

"A jump-start only takes care of the symptom, not the underlying problem," Paul said. He recommended that vehicles be driven for at least 20 minutes to fully charge depleted batteries. To prevent gas line freeze-ups, tanks should be kept at least half-filled.

No relief from the polar air mass is in sight until late next week, government forecasters cautioned. No major snowfalls are expected over the next few days, though there could be a light accumulation Saturday.

The longest stretch of days with highs less than 20 degrees was recorded from Feb. 9-18, 1979, according to records at the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y. Based on expected average temperatures in the single digits for the next seven days, the forecasters predicted that it could be the coldest seven-day run of polar air since 2005.

Thursday's pre-dawn low of minus 6 in Pittsfield was even more difficult to bear with fierce winds that produced a minus 26 windchill. The highest daytime wind gust at the airport was 35 mph, just before 10 a.m. By midday, thermometers had barely breached zero, despite bright sunshine.

"We're in for a siege of cold air, and we haven't seen the bottom of it yet," said Elliot Abrams, chief forecaster for AccuWeather.com. By Monday, he added, "we see more blasting into New England, the coldest we ever get to see at this time of year."

The normal late-December readings at the Pittsfield Municipal Airport weather observation station range from 14 to 30 degrees, with a Dec. 28 record of minus 10, set in 1950. The all-time low at the airport (since 1938) was minus 26, on Jan. 27, 1994.

Thursday's early-morning lows were below zero in nearly all Berkshire locations, including minus 5 at Harriman-and-West Airport in North Adams and minus 2 in Great Barrington.

The county's lowest reported pre-dawn reading, minus 12, came, unsurprisingly, from a weather observer on Florida Mountain, elevation, 1,986 fee.


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